ZAW Lin and Wai Phyo, the two Burmese migrant workers accused of brutally murdering David Miller and Hannah Witheridge on the island of Koh Tao in September, had their detention extended for a sixth time at Ko Samui Court today.
In accordance with Thai law, suspects are detained for periods of 12 days. These 12-day periods can be extended up to a maximum of seven times (a total of 84 days). The two suspects in the Koh Tao murder case were arrested on October 3 and have now had their detention extended six times. This will bring their detention up to December 14.
On Friday, November 28 the Samui prosecutor publicly announced that the trial would begin during the first week of December. However, the case has been repeatedly delayed and postponed. The problem for the authorities is that time is running out and after this they have just one chance to extend the suspects’ detention. The authorities will need to prosecute the suspects by December 26, or release them.
The delays in this case are in stark contrast to comments made at the time of the suspects’ initial arrest. Police Chief Somyot Pumpunmuang told journalists then that the police had conducted a “perfect investigation” and a speedy prosecution was expected. But it wasn’t long before the ‘perfect’ case against the Burmese suspects was being questioned by a myriad of observers, including the British Government, the Myanmar [Burmese] Government, human rights organizations, Thai officials, and thousands of social media users.
The online community was the first group to openly question the Royal Thai Police’s “perfect investigation”. Within minutes of Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo being paraded in front of the international press as the perpetrators of this vicious crime, social media exploded with questions, doubts and conspiracy theories. The sight of these two slightly-built suspects looking absolutely bewildered while reenacting the crime – at times needing help from police to remember what they had done – raised suggestions of scapegoating in online forums both in Thailand and the UK.
Shortly after the police force’s ‘perfect’ case was dealt another blow when the suspects retracted their confessions, informing their lawyer they had been beaten and threatened with electrocution. These allegations quickly gained the attention of human rights organizations with Amnesty International demanding an independent and thorough investigation into mounting allegations of torture”.
Days later British Ambassador to Thailand, Mark Kent, met with the president of National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) Mrs Amara Pongsapich to discuss the murder case and the allegations of physical assault which she said the NHRC had evidence of.
In an attempt to calm the growing controversy surrounding the case Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha backed the police force’s investigation. Later, he went as far as stating that the British Government had “no doubts regarding British the murder case”.
But it wasn’t long before a statement from the UK proved that Prayuth’s claim was somewhat inaccurate, with Junior Foreign Minister Hugo Swire stating “there was a real concern in the UK about how the investigation has been handled by the Thai authorities”.
As if to reiterate the UK’s concerns over the case, British PM David Cameron met with his Thai counterpart on the sidelines of an international summit in Italy and personally expressed his concerns. He also requested that a team of British investigators from Scotland Yard travel to Koh Tao. Prayuth conceded, later telling the Thai media these visitors were simply observers. The report by the officers from Scotland Yard is expected to be released in early January.
The British government were not alone in expressing concerns about the Koh Tao case. Burmese leader Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing also spoke directly with the Thai PM, calling for justice in the Koh Tao case. With serious concerns being expressed by both European and Asian governments, it appeared that any hopes that this ‘perfect’ case would be wrapped up quickly and quietly were fading fast.
And it wasn’t just the international community questioning the integrity of the Royal Thai Police force’s investigation. Thailand’s premier authority on forensic science Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan criticised the handling of the case, in particular the collection of evidence, stating that the investigators had “contradicted the principles of forensic science”.
Even the prospectors handling the case exhibited their lack of confidence in the case by returning the initial report to the police, requesting more relevant information. The prosecutors in Samui asked for extra information to be included in the case file not once but on three separate occasions.
And so here we are, two and a half months after the tragic murder of two young British tourists on one of Thailand’s most famous holiday islands, still waiting to see justice. The “perfect investigation”, it seems, is still ongoing.
One thing is for sure, when and if the trial does begin in Samui, the Thai justice system will remain firmly in the international spotlight, with observers around the world closely following proceedings in the hope that justice will be served for all.